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Venu M Chennupati, KR Satish: When the Common Man Emerges To Be a COVID Warrior

The COVID-19 pandemic showed everyone’s true colours. Many who were supposed to be the helpers of the society and had promised their lifelong dedication to the nation were nowhere to be found when the second wave raged on. But amidst all the rubble lie countless stories of the commoner doing his best and beyond to fight COVID. To save not only himself or his family, but all of us. Ordinary citizens gave extraordinary efforts, and now that things have calmed down a little, we can acknowledge their stories and struggles.

Venu Madhav Chennupati, an epidemiologist, runs a Healthcare IT firm in Hyderabad and KR Satish, a social activist, is the founder of Brilliant School in Hyderabad.

When the second wave of COVID-19 was raging across the country, Chennupati and Satish joined hands to drive forward the conversation about vaccines. They brought to light the vaccine shortage and the distribution process of the vaccine. And discussed at length how vaccinations should be prioritised by exposure and not by age groups.

Chennupati trained at Harvard University to become an epidemiologist. Through his analysis of the pandemic in the country, he deduced that the population-based distribution of vaccines was not an effective strategy in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

The R0 ( pronounced “R Naught”) is the reproduction number and is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious a disease is. The expected number of cases is directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection.

In Telangana, the R0 jumped from 1.47 on April 29 to 1.55 on May 1.

Chennupati suggested in one of his writings that to tackle the spread of coronavirus and bring the R0 down,  the government needs to implement a new model. Due to the economic slowdown, state governments were hesitant about a lockdown; hence according to Chennupati’s expertise, he suggests that the Indian governments should vaccinate the front-line economy workers first and control the spread instead of vaccinating by age demographics.

On the other hand, KR Satish’s years of experience as a social activist gave him great insight into grassroots problems.

Satish quickly grasped the practical problems posed by the vaccine shortage and coronavirus infection spread rate. He felt that those who deal with customers directly, i.e. delivery persons, bank staff, street vendors, and shop owners, are more susceptible and more likely to contract the coronavirus and spread infection. Not only were they coming in contact with many people daily, but if they fell sick, they could infect many people in a day. Hence, he suggested that the government re-prioritize vaccinations by people with more social exposure, not by age.

Chennupati and Satish undertook steps to reach the Ministry of health at the Union and state levels, but their concerns were left unheard.

After their communication efforts returned fruitlessly, they filed a first-of-its-kind petition demanding vaccinations for frontline economic workers (PIL in Telangana High court (WP(PIL)SR 16115/2021).

This PIL emphasised the need for vaccinating this demographic so the economy can run smoothly and resistance against the pandemic can be built.

After the petition was filed, the Telangana High court sent notices and summoned the State government for an instant reply. Interestingly, the state government did not answer the Telangana High Court but did implement the model suggested by Chennupati and Satish.

This model helped control the spreading rate of the R0 and made it easier to handle. Telangana is the only state in India where all super spreaders are vaccinated.

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